If you were mum to 10 kids, you could be forgiven for struggling to make it out the house without having something to keep you occupied.
But for Dundee mum Heather Esplin, having children in double figures hasn’t stopped her selflessly giving up her time to volunteer two evenings a week at the specialist unit at Ninewells Hospital.
Heather, 44, of Helmsdale Avenue, supports other parents going through tough times with premature or sick newborns.
She’s an expert on the trials and tribulations of having premature children, with Heather and husband Alan, 40, parents to 10 of their own.
They have Jolise, 26, Conner, 21, Tamara, 18, Imogen, 15, Dana, 14, James, 11, Robyn, 10, Owen, 8, Alan, 5, and Issac, 3.
Nine of Heather’s babies received treatment at SCBU.
Only baby Alan was allowed to stay on the maternity ward with his mum, because he was born four weeks early – officially classed as premature but also old enough to not need specialist care.
And now she works to help others cope with the worries of premature births.
Heather said: “It’s all about giving back to them in return for all the help and support they gave me.
“That’s why I volunteer.
“The staff are fantastic, they deserve to be recognised.
“I feel so lucky that we are all here and they were a big part of that.”
Most of the early arrivals were caused by Heather’s waters breaking early, leading to infection and a need for early induction.
She said the first time she walked into the unit and saw her precious newborn baby in SCBU was terrifying.
Heather said: “It was just so scary, walking in there and seeing her hooked up to all these machines and all the beeping.
“She was whisked away from me when she was born and I had to wait two hours to see her. The whole thing was terrifying, especially because she was my first.”
Nine more premature births were to follow but she said that her eighth baby Owen’s arrival was the most traumatic. He was only 2lb when he was born 12 weeks early, after emergency surgery.
Heather was put under general anaesthetic and Owen was delivered in the sac. It was 24 hours before she and Alan were allowed to meet their boy.
Heather said: “Four days later I got to hold him for the first time.
“He didn’t look too small when he was in the incubator but when they lifted him up and put him on my chest he was so tiny and fragile.
“It felt amazing, I’d waited a long time to hold him.”
Heather’s last delivery was also particularly difficult, resulting in a hysterectomy.
She said: “When you have a baby in SCBU it’s like being in a bubble. The world is going on around you but you don’t notice because you’re so focused on your baby.
“I know how isolating it can be. Unless you’ve been there you just don’t get that.
“Having someone to talk to is so important, it helped me a lot and I like helping others in the same way.”
Vote for Heather and Ninewells
Daughter Jolise McIntosh is keen to have her mum recognised for the good work she does. She has urged people to nominate Heather for the Neonatal Excellence Awards 2019, held as part of charity Bliss’s baby charter conference. She also urged folk to vote for the Ninewells ICU department.
Jolise said: “Mum’s amazing, she really deserves an award. She has all these children at home but she still finds the time to go up there twice a week and volunteer. She’s helped so many of my pals – she’s helped half of Dundee!
“If you’ve been helped by my mum and feel she deserves the award please put Heather Esplin. in the name box but if you just want to vote for Ninewells Hospital any vote would be appreciated by my mum.
“She is an amazing woman and I feel like she deserves the award as she dedicates so much time to helping everyone at the hospital and supports so many families.
“She really is an amazing woman and deserves the world if I can become half the woman she is I’ll be so proud.”
How Heather’s babies battled to survive
Nine of Heather’s babies were admitted to SCBU at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee.
Jolise, 26, was born when Heather was 36 weeks pregnant, four weeks before her due date, weighing 6lb 5oz making her Heather’s heaviest baby.
Jolise spent 10 days at the old neonatal unit receiving treatment for an infection as well as help with breathing and eating.
Conner, 21, weighed 5lb 2oz when he was delivered when Heather was 35 weeks pregnant. He spent nine days in the old unit and needed help with his breathing.
Tamara, 18, needed help breathing and eating when she was born when Heather was 34 weeks pregnant, weighing just 4lb and 4oz.
She received two weeks of treatment in the new ward, following its huge refurbishment.
Imogen, 15, was born nine weeks before her due date, when Heather was 31 weeks pregnant. She weighed 3lb 4oz and had to stay in SCBU for four weeks.
Dana, 14, also weighed 4lb 4oz when she was born by emergency cesarian section when Heather was 33 weeks pregnant. She spent 10 days in SCBU.
James, 11, was born six weeks before his due date when Heather was 34 weeks pregnant. He weighed 4lb 7oz and had to stay in the unit for 11 days.
Robyn, 10, had to stay at the unit for four weeks, receiving help with breathing and learning to eat. She was nine weeks early when she was born, and weighed 3lb 4oz.
Owen, 8, spent eight weeks at the unit, including three weeks at the intensive care department. He was a tiny 2lb when he was delivered in the sac when Heather was just 28 weeks pregnant – 12 weeks early.
Owen was on a ventilator for 24 hours, then a CPAP mask and machine for assisted breathing.
Alan, 5, was born when Heather was 35 weeks pregnant and weighed 5lb 2oz.
He was the only baby who did not need to go into the specialist care unit, and spent five days on the maternity ward with his mum.
Issac, 3, was born 15 weeks early when Heather was 25 weeks pregnant.
He stayed at the unit for four weeks, including four days on a ventilator, then a CPAP machine after that. Issac was 3lb and 4oz when he was born.